"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx

Monday, August 30, 2010

Nothing by Janne Teller

Nothing by Janne Teller may very well be the most disturbing novel I have ever read. The story begins with a bunch of 7th graders in Denmark coming back to school after summer vacation.  Just as they are settling in a classmate,Pierre Anthon, gets up, declares that nothing matters, that there is no meaning in life, leaves the classroom, scales a plum tree, and sits there. He sits in the tree day after day taunting his classmates. When ignoring him and then pelting him with rocks doesn't work the classmates set to the task of building a pile of meaning from the things that they treasure.  What starts off as seemingly harmless and possibly fun task soon evolves into a grossly perverse and sickening one with each item added to the "pile of meaning" worse and more dear than the last.

This short book took me less than two hours to read but I did so with my hand over my mouth in horror the whole time. Nothing has won all kinds of awards in Europe and I wonder if it will be an award winner in America, too.  I certainly am considering it for one of the 10 books for my Mock Printz Workshop.  The only problem is that it is so disturbing.  This book begs to be discussed, perhaps as a form of therapy, after completion. On a weird but lighter note, I kept thinking of Dr. Seuss stories like Yertle the Turtle, The Butter Battle Book, or The Lorax while I was reading Nothing.  It certainly has that cautionary-tale quality to it that a lot of Dr. Seuss books have, minus, of course, the cute pictures and the happy endings.

So with this kind of recommendation do you dare read the book?  I say you should.  If for no other reason that we can discuss it after you are finished.

4 comments:

  1. I completely agree about how disturbing it is. I did stay with me for a while after I read it. I kept talking to my husband about it as their "meaningful" sacrifices kept escalating. Totally creepy, but man, sadly I can see it happening. You know how kids are. The farther they go, they easier it is to take another step even further.

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  2. Oh my gosh, I absolutely want to read this book! Dystopias and other social commentaries are my thing. Thanks for the recommendation.

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  3. Hi Anne! I appreciate your review of this book. The Glendale, AZ public library has chosen this book for the month of may teen book club. I have not yet purchased it for my son to read, but plan on doing so this weekend. What are your thoughts for this book being used in this kind of setting for discussion? As a parent, should I read the book with my son and discuss it prior to him attending the group? After? Or is this something that could be dealt with inside the group?
    Thanks!
    Misty Livingston, AZ

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    1. Misty, I hope that you get this reply since you didn't leave me an e-mail to reach you. Nothing is a remarkable books. It is masterful from the stand-point of how the author evokes very strong emotions in readers and does it very quickly. Kids on my Mock Printz team first told me that they hated the book and then they voted for it as one of the year's winners. (It did win a Printz Honor in 2011.) They were reacting to the subject and then realizing that the writing was superb. Do you remember reading The Lord of the Flies when you were in school? Nothing is a bit like that books...a book where everything goes downhill FAST. But the beauty of such a book is that it gives readers something to talk about and they will want to talk after they read it. Believe me. I don't know how old your son is, but I think you should read the book on your own because he will want to talk after he finishes it. Good luck!

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